ESL online teaching

Online Teaching versus Teaching Online

My journey

What is the question here? Isn’t the title just a play on words? Are these notions the same or not? And if not, how can we tell them apart? These puzzling questions will hopefully be answered by the end of this article.

The Covid-19 pandemic drew a clear line between offline and online teaching. Before the shutdown, it had been a personal choice, but suddenly it became a must. Numerous schoolteachers with no practical knowledge or previous expertise in utilising the internet found themselves in a rather inconvenient situation. They had to convert from in-person teaching to teaching online overnight. All my credit to those who managed to make the Big Leap! Unfortunately, many of the have failed.

What do I mean by the phrase teaching online? Some may be surprised or even disagree with me, but my firm opinion is that teaching online is fundamentally the same thing as teaching in person. The only difference is that, in the case of teaching online, there is a screen between you and your students, and they are physically somewhere else. Otherwise, you use the same language books, exercise books and resources. If you’re lucky, your students own the same books as you. You both work in the same print books and talk over the internet. If you’re not so fortunate and you happen to possess different versions, you can start scanning, photocopying all materials, and sending them over to your students via messenger, email, skype, teams etc. Is this familiar to you? If yes, you’re still an offline teacher who’s temporarily using the internet for keeping contact with students. You carry out the same activities only the distance is bigger.

These ESL teachers often struggle to keep their students engaged during online lessons. They tread on uncharted territory as the previously used methodology is not applicable anymore. At the same time, ESL students may not have sufficient motivation due to lack of support.  What could be the solution here? It is a question I have been trying to answer in the past few years.

Certainly, the online methodology is not taught at universities for teacher trainees. Yet, there is an abundance of online resources available (but be careful, the quality is often questionable!) How is it possible to make heads or tails of them? Well, I believe that many of us make an instinctive and understandable decision here: we start developing our own materials and methods using whatever online sources we may come across. This is what I did, too.

Teaching will always be a combination of resources, no matter if you’re teaching in person or online. The trick is to find the right balance between them. How much of certain resources should be used during an online lesson? Well, it depends on the topic, your background knowledge and experience and, of course, your students. Online teaching is more flexible and intuitive, but it also requires readily available materials and tools.

When I started developing tasks for my online lessons, I soon felt the desire and need to get them organised and structured in a freely accessible way – not only for myself but for my students as well. I quickly had enough of the laboursome, time-consuming, and complicated cycle: search-copy-send-receive-correct-copy-send-file-record-recall. These steps were seemingly unavoidable within the same frame of work. In other words, I felt that the methodology of in-person teaching did not work for online lessons.

After years of hard work -

that's what looks like on the inside now:

So, what's the difference between teaching online and online teaching?

There is a simple way to summarize online teaching: the more online resources you use, the closer you are to online teaching without falling into the other extreme. Traditional dictionaries and printed books should always be part of your daily routine, but you must find the right balance to fulfil your students’ needs. You will achieve your desired objective if you can reduce your workload, become more organized, save time, and increase effectiveness at the same time. A better outcome with less work. Does it sound appealing to you?

And this was the moment when the idea of English Exam Tasks was born.

I remembered the saying: the problem cannot be solved with the same type of thinking that caused it. You must think outside the box! I asked myself: wouldn’t it be nice to have an online software that contained all the tasks, kept a record of the results, corrected my students’ work, motivated them, rendered the long hours of extra work unnecessary, and could be shared with an unlimited number of people?

Did anything like that exist? Well, separately yes, but not as an integrated concept. I took a deep breath and started looking for people much smarter than I to bring this dream to life. Software developers, web designers, marketing experts, and fellow teachers without whose invaluable contributions it could never have been done.

To cut a long story short, the result of their joint efforts is English Exam Tasks. We’re a committed and proud team and the journey has just begun. Numerous successful students can testify its usefulness. Now, I feel, it’s time to share it with my colleagues who would like to turn themselves into effective and truly online ESL teachers.

Would you like to join the journey?

Best Regards,
Zsolt Ary
English teacher & founder of English Exam Tasks
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